First Chapter First Place for Historical Fiction: A Moment in Time by Patricia La Vigne
August 9, 2016
A Moment in Time by Patricia La Vigne is the First Place winner in the Historical Fiction category of Works in Progress for the East Texas Writers Guild First Chapter Book Awards.
Award-Winning First Chapter
September, 1951. Libbie Brown adjusted her skirt, set both feet on the porch floor, and sat tall in the wicker chair. Hands folded in her lap, she raised her head a little. A slight smile. All this set the tone for what she was about to say.
“You want to write about my friend, Margaret, and me? Why?”
Farley Stewart’s six foot four inch frame towered before Libbie. He paused a moment, adjusting the case he carried from one hand to the other.
“Miss Libbie, I’ve met and talked to some of your friends. You’ve both lived through some of the most turbulent times of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. You’ve both overcome great obstacles. I believe you each have a story to tell.” Farley gestured toward a second chair. “May I?”
Libbie nodded. “Please.”
Farley sat, placing the case on the floor. He cleared his throat before proceeding.
“You were born in Maryland before the Civil War. Your parents were slaves on a plantation there. You’ve dealt with slavery firsthand, and rose above that barrier.”
Libbie’s glance hardened. “I don’t remember slavery as a barrier, Mr. Stewart. It was our way of life. We didn’t choose it, but it was still a way of life, our lives. We worked hard, but we had good times, too. We sang. We laughed. We took care of our sick. We taught our young. We prayed. We buried our dead.” She took a deep breath, leaned forward, and raised her hand to Farley’s face. “And yes, many tried to leave—escape, run away to a better life.” Her voice was low, but determined. “Mr. Stewart, we had our own community.”
Libbie sat back in her chair, silent.
Farley felt the warm blood creep into his face. “I—uh, I apologize.” .He cleared his throat.
Libbie did not respond, waiting for him to continue.
Farley sat forward, hands folded, and elbows resting on his thighs. “Miss Libbie, I’m very interested in your story. Suppose you just tell me about your life.”
“Miss Libbie, I brought some refreshment for you and your guest.” Sarah Wellington, appeared bearing a tray with three glasses, a pitcher of lemonade, and a plate of cookies. She placed the tray on the small table between the two chairs. “The cookies are fresh from the oven. Chocolate chip—your favorite.”
“Sarah, you spoil me.” Libbie glanced at Farley. “Sarah is our caretaker. You see, when you reach your hundredth birthday, the body complains at times.”
Farley stood. offering his hand to Sarah. “A pleasure to meet you, Sarah.”
Sarah smiled, reaching to shake his hand.. “I know why you’re here, Mr….”
“Stewart. Farley Stewart. I do freelance writing for a number of publications, and Miss Libbie has graciously offered to share her story.”
“She’s not the only one, young man.”
Farley’s eyes widened.
A woman dressed in a navy blue skirt and white blouse approached the small group. Her white hair was perfectly coiffed, accenting her deep blue eyes. She moved with dignity, stepping slowly, using a silver-headed cane for some support.
Farley rose so she could take the chair he had occupied. Sarah put another chair in front of the women.
“Please sit down, Mr. Stewart. I’m Margaret, Margaret McGuire. Sarah mentioned you wanted to talk to both of us. I apologize for not being here when you arrived.” Margaret smiled, settling herself in the chair. She leaned her cane against the porch wall.
Sarah poured another glass of lemonade and handed it to Margaret. “I’ll leave you all to visit now. If you need anything, just jingle the bell,” she said, indicating the small silver bell on the table.
“Thank you, Sarah. We’ll be fine.” Margaret turned toward Farley. “Well, what can we do for you, Mr. Stewart?”
“First, please call me Farley. As I mentioned when I called earlier, I’m very anxious to hear your stories, with as much detail as you can give me.”
Margaret chuckled. “You mean as much as two one hundred year old women can remember.” She studied Farley for a moment. “You know, young man, a hundred years is really only a moment in time when you consider how long the world—the universe has existed.”
Farley smiled. “You are right.” He coughed.
“Ladies, I have talked to several people around town who know and remember you, and how you helped to create history, not just here, but in Washington. You must admit for a black woman and a white woman to become, and remain friends from early childhood is quite unusual. Especially women of different races.”
Libbie moved her head forward. “I know there have been racial issues over the years, but we have never considered ourselves so different that our friendship would be considered ‘unusual.’”
Farley squirmed. “Again, I apologize for being…insensitive, Miss Libbie.”
“Libbie has always been very forthright, Mr., I mean Farley. That’s probably the first thing you must learn about her. From her earliest years, she never allowed someone to take advantage of her, or try to intimidate her.”
Farley quickly removed a spiral-bound notebook and pencil from his case. “I’ll just make notes as we go along, then I’ll review them with you at the end of this session to make sure my facts are correct.” He leaned forward a little, and poised the pencil over the first page of the notebook, which rested on his knee. He waited, smiling, a little nervous.
Margaret sipped her lemonade, placed the glass on the table, and sat back. “Now let’s see, to begin with we were both born in 1851 on Daddy’s plantation in Howard County, Maryland. I’m older by three months and five days, so I always felt like the older sister. We were best friends and played together almost every day.”
“You always tried to tell me what to do,” Libbie said. She glanced at Farley. “One day I got tired of her bossiness, and slapped her.”
“Yes, you did. Now Farley, you can imagine what would have happened to Libbie if I had told my father. She would have been whipped and banned from the house. I didn’t want that to happen. Even at the tender age of six, I watched out for Libbie.”
Farley’s mouth gaped. “You must have loved her very much even then.”
“I don’t know if ‘love’ is the correct word. I just didn’t want to be alone without a playmate.”
“I see. Tell me a little about your home.”
Margaret thought for a few moments. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Libbie’s head begin to droop. She reached across and laid her hand on Libbie’s arm, shaking it a little. Libbie lifted her head and opened her eyes.
“Do you want to lie down?” Margaret asked.
“No, no. I want to hear this.”
Margaret thought for a few minutes.
“It was a white house with columns and fifteen rooms. Typical of what you see throughout the South. My father raised tobacco on four hundred acres. Naturally, he could not farm the land by himself, so, yes, slaves worked the land and helped with household duties. Libbie’s mother worked in the kitchen, so Libbie grew up in the house with me. Neither of us had brothers or sisters, so we became best friends. Our parents allowed us to play together in the beginning, and when it came time for our schooling, I begged Mother to let Libbie stay with me during classes.”
“In those days,” Libbie began, “ little white girls were taught to sew. Margaret’s mother thought I should learn to sew, too. It turned out I enjoyed learning the stitches more than Margaret did. We had to do a sampler. She got mad when her mother made her tear out some stitches and do them over. That afternoon, we sneaked out into the woods near the house, and I finished Margaret’s sampler. We promised never to tell.”
Margaret laughed. “I remember that sampler. Most young girls took great pride in their accomplishment. I hid mine in a corner of my closet. My mother thought I had lost it, and she soon forgot about it. I didn’t. Several years later, I pulled it out and looked at it. Libbie had done such a wonderful job, I smoothed it out, made a frame, and hung it on the wall.”
Farley stopped writing. “Libbie, how long did you live in the house?”
Libbie stared into space for a few seconds. “I didn’t live in the house. After the kitchen chores were done each night, Mama and I went to our little cabin in the back. Papa would be there waiting for his dinner. Mama would fix gruel or potatoes with a little bit of meat, if she had some. Papa always said a blessing before he would let us eat. He said the Lord was good to help him grow the food and we had to thank Him.” She reached up, brushing a tear away.